Using James Surowiecki’s “The Wisdom of Crowds” For Wise Surveys

Are you doubting the value of customer surveys for your business? Well if you want more sales, you shouldn’t…

Do you remember that show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”

Well do you remember that one of the three life lines was to ask the audience, where each audience member would vote on which answer they think is right, and the answers are polled?

Well did you know that the audience gets the answer right about 91% of the time? How does that happen? How is a crowd more reliable for getting accurate knowledge?

Well the answer to these questions can be found in James Surowiecki’s book “The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies, and Nations” (2004) which I highly recommend reading

Surowiecki explains how crowds, living up to 4 requirements, often have independent and diverse sets of knowledge that, when polled, point to the correct solution.

When you get alot of independent minds together, you’re more likely to find the right answer in a consensus.

Surowiecki identifies 4 requirements for a crowd to much more likely yeild accurate results:

1. Diversity of Opinion – Each person should have private information even if it’s just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts

2. Independence – People’s opinions aren’t determined by the opinions of those around them.

3. Decentralization – People are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge.

4. Aggregation – Some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.


An unsually accurate prediction market site,, models itself on Surowiecki’s criteria for wise crowds.  The site has successfully predicted every single senate race from the 2006 elections. Not bad!

So why can customer surveys work for your ads and increasing your business?

First, look at the 4 criteria for wise crowds again and see how customer surveys fit right in:

–   Diversity of Opinion – it’s more likely that your customers vary in many different ways, and the ones who’d reply to your survey requests, even more so.

– Independence – that’s an easy one, most people fill out surveys in private, and hardly ever discussing them in a crowd.

– Decentralization – each person brings their own body of knowledge and opinion and not limited to one area.

– Aggregation – they return the surveys to you, so you can aggregate and analyze the data.

So, they have potential that should not be wasted. If you can ask the right questions on your survey and get their answers on what they want you to provide and improve upon, you’ll very likely hit on some accurate answers to increase sales and improve your ads.

How do you get the questions right? Well I cover a part of the answer in subjective value & customer survey posts (start here)

Needless to say, customer surveys, used correctly, could provide some very valuable information to what makes your customers tick, and buy. So find out and apply the knowledge in your in your ads.

Try it out. Take a vote on it 🙂